The Henry W. Maier Festival Park is quiet throughout the winter, but once the weather warms up, it is the most popular summer destination in Milwaukee. Every weekend there is a festival being held at the park, which is home to the world's largest music festival, Milwaukee's Summerfest. As a matter of fact, the park is often referred to by locals as the Summerfest grounds. The ampitheatre on the site is a popular concert venue during the spring, summer, and fall months, even when there are no events at the park. Frequently, the back entrace of the park is opened so visitors can reach the ampitheatre without trudging through the entire grounds.
Summerfest is the reason the fairgrounds came into existence.In 1968 the music festival began, but was held in 35 different locations around the city. The following year the weather was so horrible the final day of the show had to be cancelled. By 1970, city officials had decided upon a permanent, central location for the festival. It would be held at an abandoned strip of land on the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee. Originally, this site featured makeshift stages of wooden boards on concrete in the middle of a field of grass. Undeterred by the lax performance facility, musicians loved being a part of the annual festival because of the comraderie and passion for music it promotes. Today, the festival grounds features over five stages, plus the ampitheatre, and most of the performances cost no more than the price of general admission to the park. Throughout the grounds are stands with food and beverages from local favorites such as Saz's restaurant, Miller-Coors Brewing, Cousin's Subs, and Edwardo's Natural Pizza.
The festival is suitable for children during the daylight hours and offers a variety of performances and activities for them. The near-nightly magic show featuring local magician David Seebach is highly recommended. While some of the youth-oriented events continue into the evening, Summerfest is not the ideal location for children after sundown. There is a lot of alcohol consumed, and the behavior of the patrons is reflective of that. The organizers of the event have gone to great lengths to ensure guests are safe and comfortable while at the park. Typically, the only concern concert goers have is the rowdy crowds in attendance at certain shows. Overall, it is a fun experience.
In addition to Summerfest, the park plays host to a wide variety of ethnic and cultural festivals throughout the season. Most popular are Festa Italiana, German Fest, and Polish Fest. Other events includes African World Festival, Arab World Fest, Asian Moon Festival, Indian Summer, Mexican Fiesta, and Pride Fest. Each of these celebrations features cuisine, culture, and entertainment from the respective ethnicities.
There is parking for the festival grounds just outside the gates, as well as throughout the city. During Summerfest, school buses run from various locations throughout Milwaukee county and the surrounding area. Most of them pick up patrons at local bars, and rides are free, with a suggestion of enjoying a beverage at the starting point before or after the ride.